Sunday, June 17, 2007

"so it is said, and so it is done..."--my father

Nearly verbatim:

Them: "Thank you, who is calling?"
Me: "Last One Home, calling for Last One Home, Sr., please"
Them: "One moment, LOH, let me see if I can reach him"..."LOH, I'm very sorry, but LOH Sr. is unavailable at the moment, may I take a message?"

Now, for many years at this point in the call I would try to cajole the person who answered the phone [one of my father's employees] into getting my father on the phone by whatever means necessary. I have advocated outright falsehoods and lies of omission; I have offered bribes, attempted to enter into philosophical negotiations, and even once allowed my great and sincere sadness regarding our relationship to come through over the phone. None of these attempts have ever worked, though the last did reduce the poor young lady who answered my father's phone on that day to tears herself. So I've got that going for me.

For the last few years, I have instead used the Father's Day failed-phone-call much like the Christmas and birthday failed-phone-calls--as information-gathering tools.

Me: "Unfortunately, we both know a message is pointless, but if you have a moment, I would like to ask you a few simple questions, if you don't mind?"
Them [or actually, her]: "If I can be of any small help, LOH,I will be delighted."
Me: "Is he well? Does he have much trouble he traveling at all...does he still play any golf...does he see his he [long pause], still himself?"
Her: "LOH Sr. has oxygen here, but rarely uses it...he keeps an inhaler with him and that seems to get him through any rough patches...he went to [European capital city near his home] recently to see old friends for a few days, and spent a little time in Spain once the weather warmed up...cabin pressurization does bother him a bit, so we have all been doing much more driving than we used to...[long pause] he is still a walking steel trap, one allof us here have fallen into on more than one occasion--yes, he is still himself in mind and spirit". Is there anything else?"
Me: "No, you have been most helpful. Thanks very much... ... ...actually, I do have a message if you don't mind. [long,long pause] Please tell LOH Sr. that [my full name] called, and that I would much rather prefer to address his living anger than his lifeless body...and Happy Father's Day.

My father is a powerful old man, and he can hold a grudge like no one else on the face of the earth. He lives most of the time in Europe, but his house may as well be on Mars. Unfortunately for me, today is just another pain-in-the-ass day at the office.

Happy Father's Day
"A little rudeness and disrespect can elevate a meaningless interaction to a battle of wills and add drama to an otherwise dull day"--Bill Watterson

"Rudeness is the weak man's imitation of strength"--Eric Hoffer

I have never had any confrontation with a guest escalate into a physical event, but I know it is coming. I have, of course, had to throw people out of many places, sometimes physically. I have broken up fights between patrons and was once even involved in a grand mal brawl within these very walls that started with a discrepancy over who was buying whose drinks and ended up with eight people being arrested. Events like this aren't what I am referring to.

What I am talking about is far more dangerous. Several times recently,and once in the last week, enagements over [unjustified] complaints have come very close to erupting into actual violence--I would go so far as to say that if I was a physically smaller person than I am, these two confrontations would have definitely become physical. In the most recent instance, four gentlemen entered the restaurant without a reservation, were quoted a waiting time and headed to the bar. The party was seated five minutes earlier than originally estimated and their meals progessed without issue. I watched the server check on their meals while I was at a nearby table, and saw him receive positive feedback. I checked on their meals while pouring ice water and was also met with smiles. At the end of dinner their clean plates were cleared, they shared two desserts, and then asked for the check. After reviewing the check, one gentleman put his credit card in the book, handed it to the waiter, and said,"my steak was overcooked, take it off the bill." The incredulous server informed me of the demand and under my questioning confirmed that no one had mentioned any problem during dinner and that the entire steak in question had been consumed. Now while our beef [all USDA Prime] is ludicrously expensive, this particular steak is one of the few items on our menu that doesn't run a 50% food cost or higher--it's relatively low price made the cost of courtesy in this instance somewhat cheap. I informed the waiter to remove the steak from the check, to wait for me to finish speaking with the gentlemen, and then to deliver the prepared voucher to the table.

I approached the guests and apologized for the gentleman not enjoying his meal, to which I received a noncomittal grunt. I then lamented the fact that we were not informed of the trouble when either of us checked on the meals, to which the response was, "no problem--I ate the steak and now it's free". While this comment actually stupefied me, I remained composed and let the guests know that we had removed the steak from the check as a COURTESY, but that in the future we would hold to policy and that problems not announced to us upon discovery would not be addressed after the fact [basically, you eat it means you buy it]. I wished everyone a good evening and left the table.

Two minutes later one of my other servers lets me know that the table wanted to see me, and as I was making my way back one of the members of the party, heading for the door top-speed, briefly clasped my shoulder and said, "sorry"--not a good sign. The fellow with the "overcooked" steak and one other member of the party had apparently taken issue with my "lecture" regarding our policies,and wanted "satisfaction". As I think back on this exchange, it is too troubling still to write a blow by blow--suffice it to say the guy clearly couldn't believe that he had been challenged even in the slightest way after making his ridiculous demand. He wanted my boss, and was truly shocked to find I was the general manager. He pointed out that he had stiffed the waiter, "because he never should have told a manager, he should've just done what I told him and worried about it after we left". He became increasingly profane and started demanding additional recompense for being so terribly offended, and became even more agitated when I picked up his signed voucher [which he had been eyeing as it sat atop the table]and put it in my pocket so as to avoid it being destroyed by the "gentleman". Now, like 8-year-olds, these tools refused to leave--deciding that maybe making a scene was their path to success.

By now we are about five minutes in, and I am busy. Besides babysitting these asscracks I have another one hundred and fifty seated diners to worry about, and I am out of patience. When my third, "gentlemen, it is time to go" was met with the ever-original, "or what, you'll call the cops?" I was no longer acting in the role of genial host.

"No sir", I said while leaning forward, putting one hand on each guy's shoulder, and speaking very softly so as not to be overheard, "not the cops. I will however call the paramedics for you once you two are at the bottom of our front steps."

Now, I regretted the words as soon as I said them because they being uttered were proof that I had been "gotten to", but the effect was nearly mesmerizing. In an instant these guys realized that this wasn't a TV show or a Candid Camera gag, they saw that this was real and that they were two out-of-shape guys in their mid-50's who had just pushed a large restaurant manager too far. They saw in my eyes and heard in my conversational tone that I was deadly serious, and probably also saw that I was looking forward to "seeing" them down the stairs.

They made the 80 feet from their table to the front doors in about 6 seconds. Once they were gone I took a moment to apologize to the surrounding tables, all of whom were incredulous that I was able to keep my composure. The two guys at the nearest table wanted to know what I whispered to the idiots to make them leave, and I told them the truth--I told them that I had informed our unruly guests that the cops had already been called and would arrive in less than a minute.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

"The law is not so much carved in stone as it is written in water, flowing in and out with the tide"--Jeff Melvoin

"The smaller the mind, the greater the conceit"--Aesop

It seems no one wants to do the hard work anymore, with the possible exception of Islamic Fascist terrorists and Middle Eastern anarchists. I wonder if my amazement at recent years' events is similar at all to the amazement of many normal Roman citizens in the last years before their magnificent capital was overrun by the Barbarian Horde. I have also recently thought it rather prophetic that while Christopher Columbus was approaching North America to begin the saga of this land, the last Byzantine Emperor was sitting in his palace within the besieged walls of Constantinople probably saying to himself, "I guess the Muslims really were serious about taking over the world, after all--who knew!"

I see the badly coreographed histrionics that play out daily on the floor of Congress and wonder if any of those reprehensible pieces of crap [from both parties] remember the slightest bit of 20th century American history--I wonder if they remember that when the Republicans took control of Congress in the middle of World War II that the first thing they did was issue a statement in support of Franklin Roosevelt--I wonder of they have so much contempt for their constituents that they truly believe no one back home will hold them responsible for their despicable deeds and actions--I wonder that they can overlook or dismiss the clear fact proven time and again that the only wars we lose are the ones that we fight in limited fashion. They haggle and spit and scratch over supplies for our wonderful armed forces, using the necessity of the action to try to pad their own districts and constituencies with ancillary bullshit earmarks. They leave our people undefended, insulted, and diminished in both word and deed when they should instead be filling their camps, bases, vehicles, and pockets with the best of everything used to eat, drink, wear, destroy, and kill.

I am well beyond furious. I am furious with the democrats, their party, and their thousands of pet reporters who put our very existence at risk in order to attack and belittle a man who cannot hurt them anymore. George W. Bush's presidential career is nearly over. Leave him alone and do your jobs--see to our best interests. The only pair of balls in the entire Democratic Party goes home every night with Joseph Lieberman--tell George Soros to go fuck himslef and find a few more sets and DO WHAT IS RIGHT. Stop with the constant polling, the internet ass-sucking, and the craven groveling for money. The two-faced, accent-changing, bald-faced lying garbage and double-standard laden swamp you exist in is truly one of the most embarrassing things about our country.

Oh, and just in case someone wants to ask me about all the "innocents killed" or the "war for oil" or the "Haliburton Conspiracy" or "Bush lied" or any of the rest of that Rosie O' Donnell bullshit, allow me to pre-emptively retort. 1.--We haven't killed enough innocents--dead and hideously wounded civilians and lots of them is how you win a war. 2.--The war for oil isn't in the Middle East, it is right here in America and we are getting our asses kicked--we haven't built a new oil refinery since Nixon was in office, and diminishing refining capacity is our biggest problem. 3.--Vice-President Cheney was making $30 million a year as chairman of Halliburton BEFORE the Iraq War and left the job to come get the shit kicked out of him every day as Vice-President for less money than I make--their is no "conspiracy", just patriotic duty--no wonder most of his critics can't recognize it. 4.--All Presidents lie--I just want them to lie about important things. Lie to protect the existence of our way of life. Lie to get us a foothold in a part of the world we will be spilling blood in for the next twenty years. Don't lie about taking advantage of some fat girl. Oh, and if you want to tell me that "nobody died when Clinton lied"--best put your helmet on before you get in the car to drive that one over here, because you will take some damage to be sure.

As for the Republican members of Congess--I feel like a husband come home early to find his wife in bed with his best friend--about 250 times. Is it so difficult to operate from the minority that you must immediately abandon all principles and start jacking Ted Kennedy off? I fully understand the frustration of those in my place who say let them be voted out and let the party learn its' lesson--the only problem is that this isn't the 1970's--we might not have a country left if we invest four years in "clearing the bums out". I am positive that we reside in safety now because the part of the world that despises us is terrified of George W. Bush--politicians they don't give a shit about--it is the principled man with the full bandolier that gives them pause.

This post started out as a hot-headed treatise on the farcical immigration proceedings now taking place on Capital Hill. The first quote from Jeff Melvoin was a reference to the fact that we don't need a new law--we have a 21 year-old law already on the books that is perfect--it just needs to be ENFORCED. Unfortunately, enforcing a two-decades old immigration statute before we drown in criminals doesn't get anyone on "Meet the Press", or the cover of "Time Magazine" [if "Time" even still exists]--and so here we are with Congress' version of the Tijuana Donkey Show. Instead, the post ended up in the bottomless well of my frustration--frustration with the fact that "doing what is right" has mainly been replaced with "doing what is easy", "doing what makes me look good", "doing what will get me re-elected", and most importantly "doing what will hopefully hurt or embarrass the President".

I will now go and get very drunk. Then I will be very hung over, then I will come back to work, and then after work I will hopefully continue this line of displayed thought in a more collegial fashion. God bless the end of the Cold War and plentiful, cheap Russian vodka.
"No good decision was ever made in a swivel chair"--General George S. Patton

"No pain, no palm; no thorns, no throne; no gall, no glory; no cross, no crown"--William Penn

Very often, one of the last guests in our lounge on any given night is one of the finest attorneys not just in our state, but in the country. He has routinely turned down the offer of federal judgeship, and has personally handled some of the most intricate and perplexing non-criminal legal matters to surface in the last twenty years. He is immensely wealthy and successful, respected and envied. He is usually one of our last lounge guests because his offices are across the street and when he is finished work he often walks over for a late snack and nightcap. This man regularly works well past ten each evening, and is often the last person to leave the large law offices that bear his name.

Years ago when I was much younger, I was foolish enough to try to have my own restaurant. With my meager "fortune", I over-extended myself terribly and bought into a small, failing fine dining property. For nearly eighteen months I worked like a dog, regularly logging 20 hour days as I tried everything to keep this poor place afloat. I would often be on the road to work by 6 or 6:30am, and as I drove from my bad neighborhood through an adjacent luxurious one I often saw one of the richest men in the world driving himself to work at the same time. Returning home each evening in the wee hours, it was not unusual for me to again see this same billionaire heading back to his riverside mansion. I was discouraged that our respective "jobs" and personal economies were so far removed from one another, but remained perversely pleased that at the very least we shared the same work ethic.

The Maestro, Sirio Maccione, was famous for swooping into his dining room to change ashtrays and pour wine. After the 9/11 attacks, he stayed at Le Cirque nearly all the time personally answering the restaurant's phone so as to provide a solid connection to his distraught guests and friends. Even now, with restaurants spanning half the globe and tremendous personal wealth, he insists on working the floors of his restaurants and staying in the mix.

I am tired, exhausted in fact. My days off in 2007 so far can be counted on the fingers of three hands, with a few digits left unused. My willingness to physically work, to "get my hands dirty" so to speak, coupled with a predilection for not suffering fools particularly well has left me with a very small management support staff. Perhaps I am a poor teacher or perhaps the quality of the "student body" is degrading, but no matter the reason it has been nigh impossible for me to fill out the management ranks in my own restaurant.

On the rare occassion that I roll out of here at a decent hour and can check out the competition for a late snack or drink, I am nearly dumbstruck by the seeming legion of manager-types roaming the aisles, especially in the corporate houses. My salesmen tell me that very few of those people stick--that there is constant turnover and rampant incompetence, but I am starting to wonder if I shouldn't lower my standards anyway and see what happens. I see very much, just ask my staff, but I do not see all--and what I miss could be costing us in some way or another. I would hate to think that my stubbornness is keeping us from the $1 or $2 million more in sales we need to crack that Top-100 Highest Grossing restaurant list.

On the bright side, there is help on the way, finally. A recent acquisition is a little short on practical experience but long on work ethic, intelligence, and willingness to learn. He has to be watched and makes his share of rookie mistakes, but also asks the right questions and rarely makes the same mistakes twice.

On the horizon though, is the free agent signing that has kept me swimming against the current no matter how much I want to let myself sink. Coming soon to a ten-year old steakhouse possibly near you is the restaurant version of the five-tool player. Able to book private events [something I despise], great with guests, sharp enough to handle the front door on fill-in, and mature enough to understand how to act and behave at all times.

Wish me luck. I don't know if I will ever relax enough to hand over the keys to the kingdom while I still wear the crown, but it will at least be nice to know that I can.